Bauman, Zygmunt

Bauman, Zygmunt

Bio: (1925-2017) Polish-British sociologist. Zygmunt Bauman is one of the most important modern sociologists. He has intellectual roots in French anthropological structuralism, the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, the revisionist Marxism of Gramsci and Lukács, as well as in the radical sociology of Wright Mills. After World War II, Bauman worked as an officer in the Polish army, only to be discharged from the army in 1953 after an anti-Semitic purge. He then worked as a professor at the University of Warsaw and during that time he published a large number of scientific books. In 1968, he was branded a public enemy and emigrated to the West. Bauman became a professor at the University of Leeds in 1971, where he remained until his retirement in 1990. Bauman continues to write books in retirement, and with even greater intensity so that in the late period of his life he published over forty books dedicated to various topics.

                                             Early Period

In the mid-1960s, Bauman developed a specific view of the situation in socialist countries. In his works from that period, such as the book Ideas, Ideals, Ideologies (1963), he makes three claims: bureaucracy and ideology promoted conformism and suppressed personal sense of moral responsibility; subcultural heterogeneity prevented the effective implementation of central plans; and the view that each person must take responsibility for their actions to make the situation better. In addition, he hoped, during this period, that sociology would enable the creation of an intelligentsia that would turn bureaucratic planners into enlightenment teachers. He emphasized praxis, an objective study of the world in historical development, which would result in the creation of a vision of a better socialist society.

After leaving for Britain, Bauman published his first book in English, Between Class and Elite (1972). In this book, he combines Marxist and Weberian social theory, which represents the beginning of his intellectual departure from doctrinal Marxism. In his books, Culture as Practice (1973), Socialism: The Active Utopia (1976a), and Toward a Critical Sociology (1976b), Bauman explores the relationship between practice, critical theory, and sociology, and studies the nature of communism and capitalism as real socio-economic systems. He warns of the tendency of critical theory not to be self-critical enough. As the main shortcomings of real socialist systems, Bauman singles out the tendency to carry out rapid industrialization, instead of working on building authentic socialism. The Communist Party made itself untouchable, while at the same time atomizing civil society. On the other hand, he found that capitalist societies use the ideology of consumerism to legitimize the existing order, while the very stability of the capitalist system also contributed to the legitimation of the order.

In his book Memories of Class (1982), Bauman continues to move away from classical Marxism. He studies the process of transition from a rank-based society to a class-based society, with the advent of industrialization. The ruling classes tried to copy the patterns of supervision and control that existed in the rank-based system into class relations. Industrialization and the formation of classes led to the "economisation" of political conflicts. Socialism, as an ideology, arose more as a reaction to industrialization and work in factories, than as an opposition to capitalism. The reason for that is that „surveillance power“ - the patterns of supervision, control, and punishment - was most visible and influential in the factory system of work. On the other hand, the complete economic dependence of workers on factory work leads to a complete loss of workers' control over their work, forcing workers to be even more involved in the capitalist system. In the period in which Bauman wrote this book, there was a "crisis of late-industrial society".

He believes that due to the economic crisis and neoliberalism of Margaret Thatcher, there is an acute crisis in the system of production of goods, but also in the system of meeting needs. The declining role of factory workers in the economy has led to a freezing of the concept of class and class struggle. In addition, there is a large increase in the number of people who are completely excluded from the economic and social system. Therefore, the concept of class loses its significance for the transformation of society, because those who are excluded from economic relations do not have the organizational and economic resources that workers have, so they cannot even fight for their interests. Bauman believes that the solution to all these problems is the reconstruction of the political sphere. It is necessary to reduce the power of the central state to control all aspects of human lives, and at the same time democratize and increase the power of local authorities to make decisions about the life of that community.

Baumann studies Nazi crimes in his book Modernity and the Holocaust (1989). He wants to understand the causes of the Holocaust, but also the meaning that the Holocaust has for the social sciences. Bauman believes that sociologists have not dealt enough with the Holocaust and that they have generally viewed it as the only exception in civilized modern society. Bauman, on the other hand, believes that it is precisely the specific characteristics of modern society, in general, that have made the Holocaust possible. Modern technology and bureaucracy have enabled the Holocaust to be carried out quickly and efficiently, and, on the other hand, technology and bureaucracy have enabled individuals to renounce their own moral responsibility for crimes. The racist ideology and the centralized German state, which destroyed civil society and trade unions, freed up space for unfettered genocide. Bauman believes that it is necessary, in order to defeat evil in society, for people to choose moral duty instead of rationalization and self-interest when they are faced with a choice between evil and good.

                                         Postmodern Turn

In the late 1980s, Bauman made a postmodern turn that is visible in the books Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Postmodernity, and Intellectuals (1987), Freedom (1988), and Intimations of Postmodernity (1992). As specific features of postmodernity, he singles out: the huge growth and expansion of mass media, new information technologies, an increase in transnational migrations, the post-industrial economy, the growth of the ideology of consumerism, the commodification of culture, etc. Large metanarratives and a strong state, which dominated modernity, have been replaced by a state of consumerism that is subject to the will of multinational corporations. Bauman believes that in such a society, it is necessary for intellectuals, as well as other people, to take a critical stance, build their sense of moral correctness, and take responsibility for their own lives.

He continues to deal with similar topics in the book Postmodernity and Its Discontents (1997), named after Sigmund Freud's famous book Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). Bauman believes that postmodernism has led to many key and irreversible changes in society. Collective restrictions of modernity were abolished, and absolute primacy began to be given to freedom of expression of individual desires. The idea that modernity brought - that a good society should be planned and implemented by the state, which was the ideal of the welfare state - that idea was destroyed by postmodernism. Processes of increasing individualization, an unprecedented speed of change in all spheres, criminalization, and exclusion of those who lost the market competition, all led to an increase in the state of general insecurity, doubt, and fear.

                                     View on Globalization

In Globalization: The Human Consequences (1998), Bauman explores how the process of globalization has led to a lack of control and planning at the level of the entire planet, which is in a state of increased risk and fear because changes in objective living conditions have created a specific postmodern "habitat". In modern globalized capitalism, capital and finance are becoming more mobile and extraterritorial (financial capital is completely independent of state borders, capital in international trade is almost completely independent of the state, while industrial capital is significantly autonomous from the state), and supranational, that is, "planetary" organizations have a growing impact on the global economy, as a result of which the ability of nation states to control their own economy decreases significantly. Economic globalization thus leads to increasing independence of capital, which, freed from central control, becomes autonomous, but also increasingly chaotic, which leads to the creation of a "new world chaos" (as a counterpart to the "new world order").

While the idea of ​​"universalization" was present earlier, that is, the idea of ​​creating a universal global order and order, this idea has been completely abandoned in recent times. States are increasingly losing the ability to regulate their economic processes and achieve "dynamic equilibrium" through customs, monetary or fiscal policy. As national governments must obey the forces of extraterritorial global capital, counties lose, not only economic but also political sovereignty. Global capital requires states to pursue a policy of balanced budget and to abolish all forms of intervention in the economy and markets, implement deregulation and liberalization, reduce or abolish taxes for companies and banks, curtail labor protection laws, allow complete freedom of movement of capital, as and to minimize social benefits. The strength of individual states should be minimal, just enough to guarantee the physical and legal security of global investments in its territory.

The globalization of capital and the reduction of regulations lead to the "end of geography", that is, the end of the idea that geophysical boundaries can limit and slow down the flow of global capital. Even at the political level, the distinction between foreign and domestic policy is increasingly lost. For the global capitalist elite, political boundaries are as porous and unimportant as geophysical ones. Telecommunications and the Internet have enabled the transfer of information at the local level to be as fast as at the level of the entire planet. However, the technological revolution and reduction of spatial and temporal distances lead to increasing polarization at the global level. Thus, the differences between the poor and the rich are growing at the local level, where the rich elites are locked in fenced neighborhoods, which leads to increased rivalry and enmity between the elite and the masses of the poor. Withdrawing the elite and upper class to the rich suburbs almost always leads to an atmosphere of fear, paranoia, intolerance, and isolation, directed at those who do not live in those rich, racially and ethnically segregated suburbs. The artificially created demographic uniformity leads to conformism, and intolerance and calls for the preservation of order and peace, all in order to maintain that illusion of security and equality within those suburbs. This class-geographical segregation leads to an increase in poverty and crime in the poorer parts of big cities.

The power of global capital is also leading to increasing political fragmentation. The masses of disenfranchised individuals are increasingly divided on various political and ideological issues, which directly reduces their ability to unite in effective collective action to fight for their economic interests. Workers, in particular, are losing their sense of emotional connection to the workplace, and they need to become just a flexible workforce, which will not control factories and demand rights. Trade union organization and job security should be replaced by complete flexibility of the workforce without any labor rights. The state is obliged to build surveillance and punishment complexes, almost completely aimed at the poor while going to prison is a punishment for the very fact that they are poor. The state and the media are making a spectacle of criminal acts, and the desire of the state and the public to punish criminals is becoming more important than the crime rate and the effectiveness of prison sanctions.

The global redistribution of wealth and power is leading to the creation of a new planetary stratification structure. Few of the world's billionaires control the world's vast wealth, while two-thirds of the world's population lives in utter poverty. The mass media have a special role in manipulating the population in rich countries, forming their attitude towards poverty in underdeveloped countries. The media is hiding true levels of poverty and presents a picture in which poor countries are to blame for their failures, while reports on wars, epidemics, famines, and refugees serve to convince rich citizens that any attempt to really help underdeveloped countries is doomed to failure.

                                          Liquid Modernity

At the beginning of the 21st century, Bauman replaces the paradigm of postmodernity with the paradigm of liquid modernity. In the books Liquid Modernity (2000); Liquid Love (2003), Liquid Life (2005), and Liquid Fear (2006) he examines various aspects of this liquid modernity. This condition is characterized by extreme individualization and severance of many social and personal ties. The uncertainty and instability of connections replace the number of connections, but that quantity of connections is realized, above all, through modern means of communication, and not personally. Instead of strong and long-lasting relationships, more and more people have unstable and short-term relationships and networks.

Bauman describes modernity as solid, condensed, and systemic. The system sought complete control, stability, and predictability. In contrast, the new form of modernity (liquid modernity) is characterized by fluidity, diffusion, and networking. While in early modernity the ruling system sought to suppress any call for change or reform, in liquid modernity there is constant change and "creative destruction." New modernity should not be understood as a given and stable state, but as a constant and unstoppable process - compulsive modernization. Patterns of communication and coordination are changing because people are less dependent on collective political actions and projects. However, this newly created freedom is an illusion because individuals are left with only the freedom to choose their own way to fit, like conformists, into society and the economy.

To explain this illusion of freedom, Bauman emphasizes the difference between "subjective" and "objective" freedom. Subjective freedom and the related "need for liberation" are thwarted by the "reality principle", while our actions are limited by rational action while achieving some goals. Objective freedom, on the other hand, cannot be achieved because manipulations and "brainwashing" obscure true intentions and ambitions. In the age of liquid modernity, the power of normative regulation is becoming weaker, individuals remain left to doubt and fear, so they begin a "permanently searching for certainty" in their lives. The new age has no idea of ​​a possible alternative, so society ceases to question itself and stops justifying the assumptions of its own existence and actions. Instead of interacting with close reference groups comes the age of "universal comparison", where individuals compare themselves to everyone and build themselves as individuals in a liquid moral system.

While early modernity hampered every form of criticism, liquid modernity encourages criticism, but a whole new form of criticism. Instead of a substantial political and economic transformation, the liquid state encourages an individualistic form of criticism. Instead of calling for a "just society", there is an insistence on the realization of individual "human rights", so the discourse focuses on the right of individuals to be different and to have the unrestricted right to choose their lifestyle. Individuals in the new modernity cease to be "citizens", they cease to fight, together with others, for collective well-being, and they only become consumers whose only interest is self-affirmation. The consumer society needs a multiplicity of lifestyles and choices because that means that a larger quantity and more diverse goods can be placed on the market. The new age is so liquid that the very meaning of "individualization" is constantly changing because new rules and new roles are constantly being introduced. Individuals are even forced to play a game of constant individualization. "Private" colonized "public" and the public interest is reduced to a spectacle of observing the private lives of celebrities. Bauman believes that the true emancipation of both individuals and society requires the strengthening of the public sphere and its liberation from the private sphere.

In that postmodern habitat, specific archetypes emerged: tourists and vagabonds, consumers and unsuccessful consumers, and rich and poor. These archetypes function as abstract personifications of different individual perspectives and strategies in postmodernity. Consumers, drawn into ubiquitous consumerism, buy pre-packaged solutions, goods, and services, as short-term compensation for their dissatisfaction and fears. Unsuccessful consumers are those who in the market fail to provide themselves with the products that the consumer culture tells them they should have. "Tourists" and "vagabonds" represent specific archetypes. Tourists travel because they want to because tourism is a key part of postmodern consumer culture. On the other hand, vagabonds are those who are forced to travel, that is, to emigrate, to solve their economic existence.

The political sphere in the liquid age is best explained by "public choice theory". This political theory views citizens not as voters, but as consumers, while it views politicians as businessmen who strive to sell their products to as large a share of consumers as possible. Rational choice is based on striving to meet needs and is free from worrying about the consequences of choice. Universal flexibility penetrates all spheres of individual life - employment, romantic relationships, cultural identities, the way of presenting oneself in public, ethical values, etc. Progress in private life is no longer shaped by the continuity of personal improvement, but life is composed of many isolated episodes, so life strategies and plans are only short-term. The mobility and extraterritoriality of global capital makes ordinary voters inferior and doomed to deal only with local issues. The inferior and helpless position of ordinary individuals in relation to global capital leads to the loss of the ability to make transformational projections of the future, which further leads to the collapse of trust and weakening of the will for collective action and political engagement.

Main works

Klasa, ruch, elita: Studium socjolo giczne dziejów angielskiego ruchu robotniczego (1960);

Idee, ideały, ideologie (1963); 

Kultura i społeczeństwo (1966);

Between Class and Elite (1972);

Culture as Praxis (1973);

Socialism: The Active Utopia (1976a);

Toward a Critical Sociology (1976b);

Hermeneutics and Social Science: Approaches to Understanding (1978);

Memories of Class (1982);

Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Postmodernity, and Intellectuals (1987);

Freedom (1988);

Modernity and the Holocaust (1989);

Modernity and Ambivalence (1991);

Intimations of Postmodernity (1992);

Postmodernity and Its Discontents (1997);

Globalisation: The Human Consequences (1998);

In Search of Politics (1999);

Liquid Modernity (2000);

Society under Siege (2002);

Liquid Love (2003);

Europe: An Unfinished Adventure (2004);

Identity (2004);

Liquid Life (2005);

Liquid Fear (2006).

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